Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano returned to work with the National Football League team today, about three months after he was diagnosed with a treatable form of leukemia.
Pagano’s return came a day after the Colts clinched a playoff berth with a 20-13 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. Indianapolis has a 10-5 record heading into its Dec. 30 regular-season finale against the Houston Texans.
Pagano thanked his family, his doctors, the team and Colts owner Jim Irsay in a tearful news conference, calling today the second-happiest of his life, after his wedding.
“I can’t tell you how thankful my family and I are to everybody who reached out,” Pagano said. “I’ll be forever in debt to each and every one of you. There’s no better place.”
Pagano returned to the team’s offices this morning, Colts spokesman Avis Roper said in an e-mail. The coach hosted a team meeting and said he joked with offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who has served as interim coach, that he wished Arians had set the bar a little lower.
“Mission accomplished,” Arians said. “It’s a fantastic feeling, without getting emotional again, knowing that he’s going to be back and the work week shouldn’t be as stressful.”
Pagano is in his first season coaching the Colts after replacing Jim Caldwell, who was fired after a 2-14 campaign.
Pagano, 52, left the team in late September to undergo treatment after being diagnosed with acute promyelocyctic leukemia, a cancer of the bone marrow.
His return makes for “an extra special Christmas,” Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck told reporters yesterday.
“We really wanted for his return to know we were going to have the postseason,” he said. “We didn’t want to slide in the back door and put that extra stress on a man having to win that next game. So we are very glad that we are going to the postseason and knowing that coach is coming back.”